Preface To Criminal Profiling, Third Edition
"The Persistence of Faith-Based Profiling" by Brent E. Turvey, MS - April 2008
The first step is admitting we have a problem.
Faith is often enough to make decisions in personal matters. Faith can give much needed hope and strength in times of personal crisis or difficulty. Faith can build relationships, give inspiration, and provide personal guidance. But personal faith is not to be confused with an actual proof or actual evidence. As such, personal faith and belief should not be imposed in a professional context where the burdens and consequences to others are grave—as in the criminal justice system.
Many people have transcendent or phenomenological belief systems that give their lives both meaning and bearing. Personal belief systems can take root at a very early age, sometimes as a part of our cultural or ethnic identity. As a result, they are almost impossible to remove without eroding the soil of substance that gives one a sense of both identity and purpose. Many will not surrender a deeply held personal belief for fear it could lead to their spiritual loss or death. Therein lies the problem.
There is nothing inherently wrong with personal beliefs. Each person finds meaning and purpose in his or her own way, and that is as it should be. We each have our own journey to take in life, and it is deeply personal. However, there is a difference between faith and reason. As the reader will learn in the pages that follow, it is not the position of this work that personal faiths and beliefs are a problem unless they get in the way of objective forensic investigation and examination.
Let us speak clearly: faith and the phenomenological must have no influence over the objective investigation of fact. This includes religious faiths, spiritual beliefs, the metaphysical, the paranormal, and the supernatural. These are personal matters and should remain personal.
In faith-based reasoning, the premise of an argument and the conclusion are a matter of personal belief and subsequently considered above criticism. Those who question the premises of such beliefs, religious and otherwise dogmatic, are labeled heretics or worse. In faith and personal belief, there is little room for critical thinking, and no place for doubt. As a consequence, the nature of faith runs contrary to knowledge building.
Criminal investigation and forensic examination are professional endeavors in the service of the criminal justice system. Any conclusion that is not based on actual proofs susceptible to testing does not belong in their structural supports. The reason for this should be obvious. Faith-based reasoning is highly susceptible to bias, immune to skepticism, and there is often no way of knowing whether it is wrong. For a conclusion to be reliable and valid, our methods must be susceptible to independent review, and the conclusion itself must be falsifiable. That is to say, there must be actual proofs that everyone can experience, and there must be identifiable mechanisms for disproving our conclusions should our reasoning be biased or faulty.
As we will learn, criminal profilers often serve as both criminal investigator and forensic examiner. Criminal investigators are tasked with serving the criminal justice system by establishing the objective facts and evidence of a given case. Forensic examiners are tasked with analyzing the evidence and interpreting the facts objectively. These are enormous responsibilities that must not be taken lightly. When we act in service of our personal needs and beliefs our objectivity can be tainted, our methods distorted, and our conclusions biased. Emotions can rush the soundest judgment; dogma can bury the clearest evidence. As explained in James and Nordby (2003, p. 4):
When emotions overcome reason, a zealous forensic scientist may intentionally or inadvertently deny real justice. Results are misinterpreted, or worse, falsified. Such flawed science may not be easy to spot, since it can only appear through the results of the scientific investigation.
If we can agree to this—that we must maintain our objectivity—we can agree that personal faith and belief should have no part in the performance of what should be the cold and dispassionate rendering of a criminal investigation or forensic examination.
Is faith-based reasoning actually a problem in the criminal justice system and specifically in the field of criminal profiling? Sadly, more than a century after the 1894 publication of the first textbook advocating for more objective and scientific methods of criminal investigation, the answer is yes. Despite repeated attempts to educate practitioners, there persists throughout the geography of criminal investigation and forensic examination no shortage of faith-based motivations, faith-based methodology, and faith in examiner charisma or affiliation over actual knowledge and efficacy. As is often the case, ignorance and ego are the culprits.
Three general issues, all related, require some discussion before we tackle their influence on criminal profiling in specific: religion, the popular media, and psychics.
WORKING FOR GOD
Thank God for narcissism.
—Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) profiler
Roy Hazelwood (retired) (Ramsland, 2005)
They may perceive, for example, that the consequences of accepting whether a certain proposition is true have a bearing in determining the claim’s truth—or there will be negative consequences now or in the hereafter. This logical fallacy is referred to as the appeal to the consequences of a belief. When they are self-serving or just plain wrong, the consequences can be dire.
Investigators and forensic examiner’s alike are handmaidens to the various justice systems of humankind. Consequently, they must serve its laws. They must serve objectivity, not passion; they must serve facts and proofs, not beliefs or superstitions. If they cannot serve in this manner, then they are unfit to serve at all.
It must be admitted that not everyone agrees with this position. Some view this work as a moral or religious calling. According to the self-proclaimed “Homicide Investigator’s Bible,” homicide investigation is part of a Christian mandate to serve the “FIFTH COMMANDMENT Book of Exodus, 20 of the Holy Bible” in which “The Lord God said… Though Shalt Not Kill.” The text also concludes its preface with: “We work for God.”10 This is an admirable declaration in the service of personal faith and belief.
However, this declaration is more than just misplaced in the realm of homicide investigation or any work performed in the service of the justice systems in the Western world. Why? Because pretending that the Bible and the Ten Commandments are somehow served by modern law oversimplifies a complex reality. Further explanation is necessary.
To rationally discuss the Ten Commandments in an investigative and forensic context, we should probably start by getting them right. The fifth commandment is “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (NIV Study Bible, Exodus 20:12, p. 116). It is not
“Thou shalt not kill,” as described in Geberth (2006). This numbering remains true regardless of which version of the Bible one invokes.
The most accurate translation of the sixth commandment is “You shall not commit murder”(NIV Study Bible, Exodus 20:13). The translation referenced by the “Homicide Investigator’s Bible” is chosen from the King James Bible, a text known by theological scholars to be rife with translation errors, intentional and otherwise (see generally Ehrman, 2005, and Norton, 2005). This is particularly true with respect to the sixth commandment. The King James Bible reads, “Thou shalt not kill” (King James Bible, Exodus 20:13). The problem is that the verb appearing in the original Hebrew is not actually translated as “kill.” The verb used in the Torah forbiddance is ratsah, which is most accurately translated as “murder”—used in the rest of the Bible to describe killing out of anger, killing the weak, or killing in the commission of a crime like robbery. Faulty translations of the original Hebrew and subsequent Greek texts, however motivated, have led to a great deal of confusion on this matter.
Murder is a crime. There can be no disputing this whether one is an investigator, a profiler, a judge or a theologian. However, while the Bible is general in its prohibitions and punishments, modern penal codes are rich with detail. In most Western countries there are degrees of murder, there are mitigating factors, and there are aggravating factors. The variations are such that the same case facts will yield very different punishments from court to court, state to state, or country to country, depending on how those facts are interpreted. This can range from a few years in prison for manslaughter or negligent homicide, to the death penalty for premeditated murder. In the Bible, however, there is but one ultimate punishment for murder or any other intentional nonhomicidal offense against God (i.e., idolatry, adultery, improper sexual behavior, cursing or attacking your father or mother, failure to put down a bull that tends to gore people, being a sorceress, taking advantage of widows or orphans, etc.): Those found guilty are to be stoned to death, impaled on a stick, killed by the sword or burned alive.
This is probably as good a place as any to acknowledge that the origins of our legal system, in fact the legal system in most countries, are an outgrowth of tribunals in which the church was the arbiter of justice. This because most crimes, especially of an interpersonal nature, were deemed to have been committed against God—so the church took the responsibility for bringing the offender to justice.
No longer is this the case in most Western legal jurisdictions, especially where it is recognized that there is or should be a separation of church from state because of potential abuses and emotional influences (though there are marked exceptions that linger, in terms of both laws and those who judge them). In the United States, for example, this sentiment is a permanent part of our Constitution. The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This was tested in 1801, when the Danbury Baptists Association (representing a relgious minority in Connecticut) wrote then president Thomas Jefferson to complain that their religious liberties were seen only as privileges by the Connecticut state legislature that could be revoked at will, not as immutable rights. Jefferson responded with a now well-known letter confirming that religious belief is personal and separate from the will and authority of the state. Consequently, those working in service of the state could not influence law making (and by extension law enforcement) with the preferences of their particular faith. Jefferson wrote (1802):
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.
This doctrine, with language lifted directly from Jefferson’s letter, was first cited in the U.S. Supreme Court, Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878). George Reynolds, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, argued that he had a religious duty to marry multiple times and was therefor improperly indicted of the crime of bigamy. The Supreme Court disagreed, and the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory upheld his eventual conviction.
So in reality, far from the creed of the “Homicide Investigator’s Bible,” investigators and forensic examiners in the United States and similar legal systems do not work for God. They do not investigate on behalf of the fifth, sixth, or any other commandment or seek to enforce biblical or other religious punishments. They do not work not to protect religious belief systems based on personal or popular interpretations of writings in religious texts. They do not investigate offenses against God. And they do not seek to impale suspects, stone them, or burn them at the stake.
Or at least they shouldn’t.
Consider the case of 50-year-old polygamist Warren S. Jeffs, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As of this writing, he is in the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah. He waits sentencing for his 2007 convictions on two counts of rape by accomplice in the arranged marriage 14-year-old Elissa Wall to her 19-year-old cousin, Allen Steed. According to court records, this type of “child bride” marriage would be a common practice in Jeffs’s church, with Jeffs presiding over the ceremonies. As Winslow (2006) explains the situation:
Hildale/Colorado City Town Marshal Fred Barlow has pledged his allegiance to Fundamentalist LDS Church
leader Warren Jeffs.
“I fill (sic) that without priesthood I am nothing,” he wrote in a letter obtained by investigators for the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board. The letter was given to the Deseret Morning News after a request under the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA.)
The letter was written in October 2005 when Jeffs was still a fugitive and begins, “Dear Uncle Warren.” In it, Barlow says all of the police officers in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are loyal to Jeffs and are working under his directions.
He updated Jeffs, who has since been captured, on a series of investigations by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and Arizona POST.
“I do not know exactly what we have ahead of us, but I do know that I and all of the other officers have expressed our desire to stand with you and the priesthood,” Barlow wrote.
Arizona POST officials are investigating Barlow and two other members of the police force over their loyalties to Jeffs and refusal to answer investigators’ questions about the FLDS leader.
Fred Barlow is facing several misconduct charges, along with officers Preston Barlow and Mica Barlow.
“In October 2005, Marshal Fred Barlow sought directions from and acknowledged previous direction on the operation of the Colorado City Marshal’s Office from a federal fugitive,” said Bob Forry, the manager of Arizona POST’s Standards and Compliance Unit.
He added that the officers have refused to answer investigators’ questions.
Administrative hearings on their police certification have been scheduled for February in Phoenix. All law enforcement officers take an oath to uphold the laws of their respective states.
“These officers are truly conflicted between their religion and their duties as police officers,” Forry said.
The Utah POST Council voted on Wednesday to begin an investigation into the actions of the entire Hildale/Colorado City Town Marshal’s Office. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Friday the letter makes him want to move quickly on suspending the police authority in the border towns…. Barlow’s letter says he was praying Jeffs would be protected while he was on the lam.
“I love you and acknowledge you as my priesthood head,” he wrote. “And I know that you have the right to rule in all aspects of my live (sic). I yearn to hear from you.”
The letter is signed, “Your servant Fred J. Barlow Jeffs.”
Arizona POST officials obtained the letter after Warren Jeffs’ brother, Seth, was arrested in October 2005 outside Pueblo, Colo. Search warrant returns from the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office that were obtained by the Deseret Morning News show a number of documents were being taken to Warren Jeffs, who was a fugitive at the time.
Among the items seized: a large box containing numerous envelopes addressed to “Warren Jeffs,” “The Prophet,” “Uncle Warren Jeffs,” and other names; a banker box with miscellaneous documents titled, “Saturday Work Project January 2005-June 2005”; credit cards; 14 gift cards, valued at $500 each; VHS tapes, media cards, CDs, a Sony digital recorder, audio cassettes, computer floppy disks, a laptop, a Palm Pilot, seven cell phones, a donation jar with a picture of Jeffs marked “Pennies for the Prophet; and more than $135,000 in cash.
Seth Jeffs later pleaded guilty to a federal charge of harboring a fugitive and was sentenced to probation.
It is hard to imagine a situation where the conflict of interest between church doctrine and state law could be clearer. Yet an entire police agency has not only failed in their oath to protect and serve, it has admitting to working to aid a fugitive from justice because of the fugitive’s faith. The result has been a pattern of forced “child bride” marriages, statutory rape, and institutional control of females from a very young age going back generations—all sanctioned by local law enforcement—not to mention further unlawful acts committed to protect the leader and conceal the leader’s crimes from the outside world. This is but one recent example of religious or cultural beliefs inappropriately influencing the law and its enforcement, taken from many throughout history.
Investigators must work to establish the verifiable facts of a case and thereby help protect the rights and property of citizens. This means all citizens, not just those who share their religious beliefs, and not just those who subscribe to their subjective interpretations of religious texts. The intermixing of investigation, criminal profiling, politics, and religion has had a tragic history that will be explored further in the first chapter of this text.
In the context of personal faith and belief, things are made worse by the persistence of magical thinking.
A WORLD OF MAGICAL THINKING
I’ve never heard of or received information [from a psychic] that has even
helped solve a case.
—Sergeant Gary L. Plank, criminal profiler, Nebraska State Patrol
It is of great concern that those who are guided in their investigations and examinations by faith and faith-based reasoning are more prone to believe in and waste finite resources on the phenomenological. Not in the modern age of science and reason? Think again. As Sunstein (2005, pp. 990–991) explains, people are not always that critical, that deliberate, or that bright. In fact, many are intellectually lazy, reaching only for the explanations and reasons within their immediate cognitive vicinity:
It is well known that individuals do not always process information well. They use heuristics that lead them to predictable errors; they are also subject to identifiable biases, which produce errors. A growing literature explores the role of these heuristics and biases and their relationship to law and policy. For example, most people follow the representativeness heuristic, in accordance with which judgments of probability are influenced by assessments of resemblance (the extent to which A “looks like” B). The representative heuristic helps explain what Paul Rozin and Carol Nemeroff call “sympathetic magical thinking” including the beliefs that some objects have contagious properties and that causes resemble their effects. The representativeness heuristic often works well, but it can also lead to severe blunders.
People also err because they use the availability heuristic to answer difficult questions about probability. When people use this heuristic, they answer a question of probability by asking whether examples come readily to mind. So there are two big problems with the way people tend to reason: magical thinking and the availability heuristic. Magical thinking is often described in the cognitive psychology literature as a child-like belief that by wishing or believing something it becomes true or that seeing two things together is proof that they are causally related despite the absence of any direct evidence. The availability heuristic is in play when judgments are made based on what one can remember rather than on complete or actual information. We tend to use the availability heuristic for judging the frequency or likelihood of events.
When magical thinking and the availability heuristic come together, resulting beliefs can be almost impenetrable. There is no better example of this than the influence of film and television. The popular media feed an ever-increasing condition of metacognitive dissonance by providing false or distorted examples to populate our memory, which the public tends to believe because it wants to or because it doesn’t know
any better. The magical thinking by the public is fairly straightforward: If it’s on the screen, it must be real; and perhaps conversely it’s not real until it’s on the screen.
The Power of Media
Fictional programs like Fox’s Millennium (1996–1999), NBC’s Profiler (1996–2000), and NBC’s Medium (2005—today; based on a fictionalized version of the life of Allison DuBois, a self-described medium and psychic profiler), in combination with purported documentary programs like Court TV’s current hits Psychic Detectives and Haunting Evidence (with “psychic” profiler Carla Baron) have made psychic phenomena seem not only mainstream but valid as an investigative resource.
For a variety of reasons, there are those who continue to argue that modern TV and film audiences are largely able to discriminate between fact and fiction. They maintain that most people do not uncritically accept what they see on the screen just because it’s in front of them, with good lighting, compelling images, and an emotive soundtrack. Surely, they argue, public faith and a belief in the supernatural are not simply a reaction to popular culture.
However, evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Rather than being a mechanism for conveying properly vetted experts and information, the popular media have long been an effective tool for propaganda, press relations, and “spin.”
Methods range from the creation of blatant propaganda material, to influences on filmmaking, to opinion-editorial pieces on various subjects of varying factual content, to biased reporting, all the way to news blackouts. Why? It is because of the availability of heuristic and magical thinking. People believe what they read, what they see, and what they hear when it is put in front of them—and they very much want to believe what they feel. Put this all together in a compelling package and it can change the world for a second, a minute, an hour, or a lifetime.
Some modern examples should be given.
In 1973, when William Peter Blatty’s book The Exorcist became a feature film, the Catholic Church experienced a surge in numbers owing to the fear audiences developed in relation to evil spirits and demonic possession. To this day, and even as a direct result of being influenced by this film, there are educated people who believe whole-heartedly in the unproven phenomenon of demonic possession.
The Catholic Church’s position on this and similar films, like the more recent The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), is that publicity about the devil and his evil works is good for everyone (Matera, 2005). In other words, films can be effective press relations when they are on message and of sufficient quality.
In 1977, Jesus of Nazareth was shown on television as a miniseries and prompted yet another surge in conversions. It was aired again the year of this writing on several cable television networks as part of what has become a Christmas tradition. The number of conversions owed to inspiration by this film are said to be in the tens of millions.
In 1988, the film version of Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ was released. It portrays Jesus Christ on the cross, in his last moments, tempted by a normal life with Mary Magdalene as opposed to dying without sin for the sins of humankind. Director Martin Scorsese billed it as a work of fiction, an exploration of what Jesus Christ might have been like as a normal human being. The idea of Jesus Christ as a mere human was so intolerable to some Christians that the film opened to violent denouncements from religious groups all over the world, as well as bomb threats to theaters that agreed to show it. Those in opposition to the film’s premise apparently believed that the film had the power to tarnish the image of Jesus Christ that the church had worked so hard to cultivate over the centuries.
One might be inclined to argue that Western audiences two decades ago were perhaps more open to media influence, and they were perhaps even less discriminating than audiences today. However this argument simply does not hold. In 2005, the film version of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code was released. Worse to some Christians than The Last Temptation of Christ, this fictional work portrays Jesus Christ as a mortal who was, in fact, wed to Mary Magdalene and argues that there exists a bloodline from that union, which can be traced from their child to this day. Based on a variety of intriguing and even compelling evidence (some real and some highly dramatized), the questions it raised struck enough fear into organized religion that the film found itself banned by cities and even some countries worldwide.
As with The Last Temptation of Christ, many in the church worried if people read the book or saw the film that they would believe it was true (BBC, 2005). What is of great interest here is the persistent lack of faith by purported faithful. If conversions are of substance and the converted truly faithful, then film and television should be no threat. There should be no need to ban books, films, or ideas.
But this is not how public perception works—faith is not typically a function of critical thinking or of thoughtful reflection and careful study. Dogmatic advocates understand this and understand the need to craft not only the message but also how it is perceived. It is a direct understanding and manipulation of the availability heuristic.
But surely, as powerful as they are, film and television do not influence investigative professionals the same as an ignorant public. Surely professionals can distinguish between the fantasy world created on TV and the realities of a criminal investigation involving real people. Surely professionals are trained to know better
than to believe what they see on TV.
Enter the popular television show 24, aired on the Fox Network (currently in its seventh season, having been launched in the months following 9/11). Being the owner of every available box DVD set released to date, this author is a conversant and unrepentant fan of the show. It chronicles the life and career of the fictional Jack Bauer, a field operative in the fictional U.S. Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). Each season is 24 episodes long, as story arcs take place in real time over the course of a single day. This creates drama and tension as Jack Bauer fights to unravel and thwart various cascading terrorist plots within and against the United States under crushing time constraints. To be blunt, the fictional Jack Bauer is both extreme and brutal. He tortures suspects, innocent and guilty alike, and executes whoever is necessary to protect the United States or the lives of its citizens. It is great television, but it is only television. Or at least, that’s how it is supposed to be.
Two circumstances exist proving beyond any doubt that military students and professionals alike are watching the fictional TV drama 24, and that they are taking the torture methods it depicts directly to the front line in the U.S. war on terror.
First, there are the admissions of former U.S. Army specialist Tony Lagouranis, who left the military with an honorable discharge in 2005. He and other members of his unit attempted to copy the interrogation methods and interrogator demeanor advocated by characters in the fictional program when interrogating prisoners during his 2004–2005 tour of duty in Iraq. His interview is quoted in
NEWSWEEK: How common were shows like “24” while you were in Iraq?
TONY LAGOURANIS: There were TVs everywhere in Iraq, so people were watching movies and television all the time. I don’t know if it was specifically “24,” because I hadn’t watched it back then, but I do remember remarking all the time that it was just so common to see interrogation scenes. And they all seemed to have a common theme, that the interrogator would establish power over the detainee and then establish a threat that would make the detainee break—maybe the threat of torture, maybe actual torture.
NEWSWEEK: And soldiers would mimic that?
TONY LAGOURANIS: They were. Interrogators didn’t have guidance from the military on what to do because we were told that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply any more. So our training was obsolete, and we were encouraged to be creative. We turned to television and movies to look for ways of interrogating. I can say that I saw that with myself, also. I would adopt the posture of the television or movie interrogator, thinking that establishing that simple power arrangement, establishing absolute power over the detainee, would force him to break.
NEWSWEEK: What kinds of television-type torture were soldiers actually imitating?
TONY LAGOURANIS: Mock executions and mock electrocution, stress positions, isolation, hypothermia. Threatening to execute family members or rape detainees’ wives and things like that.
NEWSWEEK: What sort of training did you go through when learning how to interrogate?
TONY LAGOURANIS: We had some classroom training, we’d get Power Point presentations on what interrogation should be, but then we’d spend maybe a minute in the interrogation booth with a role player who was an instructor and we’d interrogate. And mostly we were judged on the form of our questions, whether or not we moved from question to question logically. It really didn’t have to do with breaking the prisoner. It didn’t have to do with coercion or reproaches, which in Iraq is pretty much all you did. So we really weren’t trained at all for the mission we had in Iraq.
NEWSWEEK: And that’s where television came into play?
TONY LAGOURANIS: The approaches that we were taught we could use, but we were encouraged to use more extreme tactics. We didn’t have training in the more extreme tactics so people turned to television to learn what those might be.
NEWSWEEK: It must be easy to watch those shows and think everything will go smoothly—Jack Bauer always seems to get what he wants. How realistic is that?
TONY LAGOURANIS: [“24”] portrays Jack Bauer as this loose cannon who’s operating outside the law but is doing what’s necessary to save Los Angeles from a nuclear bomb. The message really is that everyone will break, at some point. But it’s not as easy as they make it look. The point is that what he’s doing is not an effective technique for gaining intelligence, and his success rate isn’t lifelike at all. [Plus] the tactics he uses are completely illegal, under U.S. and international law.
This occurrence is an admission that in the absence of sufficient education and training, relatively inexperienced interrogators relied on a fictional television program to guide them in their real life interview/interrogation tactics.
Second, the 24-effect has now trickled down to the cadet level at West Point Academy in New York. In early 2007, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, dean of the academic board of the United States Military Academy at West Point, visited the set of 24 to urge its producers to cut down on torture scenes. He also invited Kiefer Sutherland, a producer as well as the actor who plays Jack Bauer, to visit West Point Academy and lecture on the evils of using torture to extract information from suspects. According to published reports, Sutherland has accepted that invitation.
As Wenn (2007) explains:
Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan visited the set of 24 to urge its makers to cut down on torture scenes.
He told the show’s producers, “I’d like them to stop. They should do a show where torture backfires. The [cadets] see it and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about 24?’
“The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”
To be clear, the General asked the real-life actor to give a lecture at West Point Academy, to explain that he is only playing a fictional character in a television fantasy, to explain that Jack Bauer is not real, to explain that getting reliable intelligence from torture is not the norm, and to explain that torture itself is not only wrong but illegal. General Finnegan understands the influence of television on his cadets, and he is trying to stem the tide of ignorance that it creates. This is nothing short of an admission that his cadets are not able to tell the difference between television and reality—making them no different than most other people.
Belief in Psychic Phenomena
The question of psychics and their utility was actually answered four decades ago. Back in 1979, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Behavioral Science Services (BSS) (currently responsible for planning, developing, implementing, and administering the department psychological services program) published a study of psychic efficacy in a police investigations. The results of this study found that psychics often gave unverifiable insights and did no better than chance (or worse) when they predicted specific details. The BSS ultimately concluded that psychics were not useful in aiding investigations (Reiser et al., 1979).
Dampening belief in psychic ability as it intersects criminal investigation is currently made difficult for advocates of the scientific method and critical thinking by the self-anointed “Homicide Investigator’s Bible”—Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon J. Geberth. This widely used text dedicates five pages to the subject of purported psychics, ultimately advocating for their use by police. It first defines psychic ability in a way that is impossible to prove, support, or even defend with scientific fact—in other words, based entirely on belief (Geberth, 1996, p. 666; Geberth, 2006; p. 718):
[A] psychic is a person who learns to control a portion of the brain which is not generally used in order to see and feel things which the average person cannot experience.
This bold assertion presupposes that psychic phenomena involve special areas of the brain, and that purported psychics actually do sense things that others do not—none of which has ever been proven by any scientific study of psychics or the brain.
Next, the text suggests using psychics as an “investigative aid,” even though they will often be wrong and of little investigative use (Geberth, 1996, p. 666; Geberth, 2006, p. 718):
It should be noted that information may not always be accurate and in some instances may be of no value to the investigation. However, this should not discourage authorities from using a psychic, especially in homicide cases where there is limited information. The use of a psychic can be considered as an additional investigative aid.
There is no tenable reason for relying on any purported “investigative aid” that provides inaccurate information or information of no value. However this is precisely what is being suggested.
Unfortunately, the continued media attention on psychic phenomena and the support these ideas have with a minority of police practitioners who provide training bestow an unearned perception of reliability and validity on those who claim to be psychic. This is largely accomplished through unverified or unverifiable testimonials. Testimonials are interesting, but they are more associated with press relations and advertising than with analytical logic and the scientific method. Put another way, testimonials are irrelevant to the issues of reliability and validity—but they are necessary to sell a product, idea, or service when actual proofs are unavailable. And, when evocative, testimonials influence the availability heuristic.
This wishful and magical thinking (that psychics are real; that some people, specifically psychics and profilers, have supernatural abilities) is alluring to inexperienced and ignorant investigators, who are often desperate to try anything on a big case because they don’t have enough training to know better. Accepting this and any other form of magical thinking has the additional benefit of not requiring the possession of investigative skill. It takes less ability and less effort to follow up on leads provided by a psychic and to believe in the supernatural than it does to buckle down and work a case.
Consider the following examples of recent cases where police have used psychics. These demonstrate that not only are many investigators ignorant on the subject, but that they are necessarily ignorant of criminal investigation techniques as well.
Given that the existence of psychic ability has never been proven when proof should be relatively easy to find, this is a testament to the persistence of faith and belief over critical thinking and analytical logic.
Example: The Case of Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth A. Smart was a 14-year-old from Utah who was kidnapped from her bedroom on June 5, 2002. Police found her alive nine months later on March 12, 2003, a few miles from her home in Sandy, Utah. Brian David Mitchell, 49, a drifter and self-described prophet calling himself “Emmanuel,” had abducted her. Mitchell had done some work in the family’s home in November of 2001.
Rather than focus on those obvious suspects with access to the home, and locating them and interviewing them, police spent a lot of time during that nine months responding to psychic tips and their “visions.” As reported in “Police, Archaeologists Wary of Psychics’ Theory of Smart Mystery” (2002):
The months-old search for Elizabeth Smart took a strange twist last week when two Salt Lake City detectives—at the behest of a group of psychics—ventured into a crypt that holds the skeletal remains of ancient American Indians.
Officials from PSI Tech, a Seattle-based company, claimed that more than a dozen of its members had determined the location of Elizabeth’s body by using a special psychic process they call “Technical Remote Viewing.”
Independently, the company claims, 14 visionaries all pointed to a concrete burial vault built by the state of Utah about 10 years ago. The vault, located in Salt Lake City’s This Is the Place State Heritage Park in the mouth of Emigration Canyon, contains the remains of 75 American Indians, many unearthed by construction projects around Utah.
But the crypt was searched and no trace of the 14-year-old girl, snatched June 5 from her bedroom, could be found,
said state archaeologist Kevin Jones….
The investigators’ fruitless Aug. 28 search through cobwebs and stale air was one example of how thousands of tips from self-proclaimed psychics have occupied overworked detectives desperately trying to crack the baffling case.
“Many of these [psychic tipsters] are well-meaning, but these tips certainly take manpower away from the investigation,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse.
Still, he said that investigators will check out every “psychic vision” if the tip is specific.
“I don’t encourage it or discourage it,” Dinse said, speaking of psychics sharing their beliefs. In fact, Dinse said officers still may recruit a psychic to assist with the case.
Note that, as encouraged by the “Homicide Investigator’s Bible,” the chief of police refused to cease the use of psychics in the Smart case, despite the fact that they were wrong every time.
Example: The Case of Australian
Prime Minister John Howard
In April of 2006, a senior Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer was suspended for consulting a psychic—Elizabeth Walker, a Scottish-born medium based in New South Wales—over a threat to assassinate Prime Minister John Howard. As reported in Duff, Koutsoukis, and Shanahan (2006):
The AFP’s spokesman for homeland security, Arch Bevis, said he would be greatly concerned if the AFP was using clairvoyants. “I think, perhaps, this fellow has watched a few too many of the US detective shows,” he said.
The AFP had doubled security staff between 2002 and 2005, Mr Bevis said, but that, apart from the comical aspect, the incident raised the serious issue of adequate training. “This does make you wonder … if the vetting of recruits is as thorough as it should be, and whether officers are receiving adequate training,” he said.
Barry Williams, of Australian Skeptics, said he “would be very worried” if he were John Howard. “I know security and intelligence gathering can be a very hard job at times,” he said.
“But if your critical faculties are intact and you are going to a psychic to ask for help on something like this, then I think you should be looking for another job.”
What this helps demonstrate is that the law enforcement community is divided on this issue of psychics. Some believe in psychics and want to use them; others recognize the use of psychics as a sign of investigative inability and ignorance.
Yet there is pressure to use them because the public has been saturated by media accounts of psychics helping the police. It takes a strong police agency with even stronger leadership to take a hard line against the use of psychics in the face of what can be overwhelming pressure, especially when it comes from a victim’s family.
Example: The Case of Shawn Hornbeck
According to an FBI missing person’s report, 11-year-old Shawn D. Hornbeck left his home riding a bicycle in Richwoods, Missouri, on Sunday, October 6, 2002, at approximately 1 p.m. He was headed to a friend’s house, but he never arrived.
Shawn’s family eventually reported him missing, and local law enforcement initiated an investigation. In February 2003, The Montel Williams Show aired a segment with psychic Sylvia Browne. According to
Sylvia Browne told the family of missing Shawn Hornbeck he was dead shortly after the Missouri boy vanished—and later allegedly offered to help locate his body for $700 per half hour.
The popular TV clairvoyant appeared on the “Montel Williams Show” in February 2003, four months after Shawn disappeared, and told Pam and Craig Akers she believed their son was “no longer with us.”
She also advised that his body could be found in a wooded area 20 miles from their Richwoods, Mo., home, near two large jagged boulders….
Browne’s “vision” of his death caused search teams to redirect their efforts and drew dozens of calls from the public who believed they lived near the woods matching Browne’s descriptions.
The family also claims the psychic then tried to cash in, which Browne vigorously denies.
Shawn Hornbeck was found alive and well in January of 2007. The 15-year old Hornbeck was discovered living just a few miles away from his home with 41-year-old Michael Devlin, a 300-pound pizza parlor manager, and 13-year old Ben Ownby. Hornbeck was found because police were actively searching for Ownby, who had been abducted from his family four days prior. A tip from a witness led authorities to Devlin, who was charged with both abductions.
These are cautionary tales meant to educate serious investigative and forensic professionals that the reality of psychic phenomena is this:
1. Anyone who claims to be a psychic is either mentally ill, an intentional fraud, or has become proficient at “cold reading” without knowing it.
2. Anyone who claims to be a psychic that has actual information about the case that only the offender could know is something else—a suspect or a witness.
3. Any professional that supports the use of psychics in criminal investigations suffers from a serious training deficiency, and that person’s investigative abilities should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.
Profilers and Psychics: Special Powers?
What do psychics and psychic abilities have to do with legitimate criminal profilers? Unfortunately, more than one might think. The confusion of psychic ability with criminal profiling has become an increasing problem, as too many profilers have repeatedly suggested over the years that the ability to profile is a special, near psychic intuition that not just everyone has. It is innate, they argue, and not something that can be taught except to those who belong to a particular group or organization.
It should come as little surprise that such profilers also tend to support the use of psychics.
Many profilers have come to enjoy the suggestion that they are among an intellectual elite who have special knowledge and divining powers. This is an image that a number of profilers have actively cultivated in their reach for celebrity. This becomes more problematic as psychics pretend to be profilers, as profilers stump for psychics, and as profilers themselves claim to have near-psychic abilities.
Consider the following prominent examples.
Robert Ressler, FBI Profiler (retired)
In 1992, retired FBI profiler Robert Ressler published his memoir Whoever Fights Monsters (Ressler and Schachtman, 1992).20 There he discussed openly his belief in psychic ability and admitted to consulting with purported psychic Noreen Renier in both his personal and professional life (pp. 238–239). According to Provence (2005):
Former FBI agent Robert Ressler invited [psychic Noreen Renier] to lecture at the FBI Academy in Quantico in the early ‘80s.
“I worked on several cases with her,” says Ressler, now a consultant in Fredericksburg. “She worked with me—not the FBI, because the FBI never condoned working with a psychic.”
He mentions that Renier helped find a downed aircraft carrying FBI personnel and says that she predicted in 1981 that President Ronald Reagan would be shot.
Ressler estimates he’s referred “dozens” of law enforcement officers toRenier. He says that while he doesn’t endorse psychic detective work, he doesn’t refute it, either. “It can be useful. It can produce additional leads. It can solve cases,” he says.
He compares Renier’s work to his own as a criminal profiler: “Sometimes it gets results, sometimes not.”
As for Renier’s psychic abilities, “I don’t think there’s any question,” he says. “She’s been tested at Duke University.” Court TV checks out people very carefully, notes Ressler. “The fact that Court TV is backing her is proof she’s legitimate,” he claims.
Note that as proof of the psychic’s ability, Ressler states that she was tested at Duke University and that Court TV backs her. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning does not hold up to scrutiny. The psychic contacted Duke University herself to be “tested” by undergoing “psychological evaluations and brain pattern monitoring.”
The result was not a confirmation of her psychic ability (Boyajian, 2001). Moreover, being on TV is not a professional credential or an endorsement of ability. Being on TV is at best recognition that one has a view or a personality that sells market share, nothing more.
John Douglas, FBI Profiler (retired)
In 1995, FBI profiler John Douglas published his first memoir, Mindhunter (Douglas and Olshaker, 1995).21 Like Ressler before him, he openly embraced the notions that not only are some psychics legitimate, but there may be a psychic component to criminal profiling. He further takes the position that criminal profiling is not entirely teachable. He describes his own method of rendering conclusions in the following passage (p. 151):
I try to think exactly as [the criminal] does. Exactly how this happens, I’m not sure, anymore than the novelists such as Tom Harris who’ve consulted me over the years can say exactly how their characters come to life. If there is a psychic component to this, I won’t run away from it, though I regard it more in the realm of creative thinking.
Psychics can, on occasion, be helpful to a criminal investigation. I’ve seen it work. Some of them have the ability to focus subconsciously on particular subtle details at a scene and draw logical conclusions from them, just and I try and train my people to do.
Bear in mind that Douglas admits to not knowing how he comes up with his conclusions and name-drops Thomas Harris to legitimize it. Essentially, he has compared what he does to psychic intuition and fiction writing. These are not the hallmarks of informed methodology, let alone objectivity and reliability.
Gypsy Niyan, Psychic;Dr. Micki Pistorious, Investigative
Psychologist;Robert K. Ressler, FBI Profiler (retired)
When FBI profilers advocated the use of psychics and “embraced the possibility that [profiling] involves psychic powers” (Risinger, 2002), the door opened for psychics to start referring to themselves as profilers, and vice versa. The media embraced it, and FBI profilers raised no notable objections. In fact, there is continuing evidence to suggest that they openly endorse this association.
One of the most notable examples is that of Dr. Micki Pistorius from South Africa. She studied under Dr. David Canter at the University of Liverpool and graduated with a Ph.D. in investigative psychology. She is a former journalist and worked for the South African Police Service as an “investigative psychologist” for six years before abruptly retiring in 2000. According to Johnson (1997):
 was when Pistorius joined the [police] service, straight from completing her master’s in psychology at Pretoria university. Until recently this former SABC [South African Broadcasting Corporation] journalist was the only person to whom the country’s police could turn to for help whenever a serial killer was suspected.
The University or Pretoria, it should be noted, is a religious learning institution. The Department of Psychology, where Dr. Pistorius studied, defines psychology in quasi-religious fashion:
Psychology is the scientific study of all the aspects of human behaviour within the context of the person with him or herself, with his or her fellow man, with his or her environment and with the Creator.
Dr. Pistorius has repeatedly made claims that she has what can only be referred to as psychic experiences in which she reads the crime scene on a “quantum level” and then searches in her mind for the killer. Her own words explain her methods best (Phirippides, 2002):
[T]here’s usually a wind, a peaceful wind, and I’d just absorb the energy flowing, of the crime scene, because that is the place the person acted out their fantasy. Sometimes after a while, the same day, sometimes a night, sometimes a week, the feeling would be translated….
The abyss is a very dark place in my mind where I managed to, on a mental plane, find these killers. It got so bad at one stage that on a Sunday afternoon I would get a feeling of sticky blood on my hands and I would feel the killer digging his hands into intestines, and then afterwards we’d find a crime scene which compares with that feeling I had….
“Psychic” is a difficult word for me. I can’t predict the future, I can’t hold the clothing of a missing person and tell you where they are. It goes a little beyond. In the beginning I was lured into it without realising how it happened and it bothered me a lot so I started reading about it and I found the answer in quantum physics, in energy vibrations.
When I sit on a crime scene, if the body’s been removed or not, I pick up the vibrations of energy and then it takes a while when this is translated into a pattern… and then I get this feeling. It’s not like a visual picture, I can’t tell you what the killer looks like, but I get the feeling and fantasy.
The manner in which a serial killer carries out his crime is a symbol of his personal agony. It is the job of the investigative psychologist to decipher the particular killer’s fantasy.
Clearly, Dr. Pistorius believes she is having certain metaphysical experiences. Some might call these hallucinations. Some might call them wishful thinking or playing to an audience or market. In any event, none of her “experiences” are verifiable, nor have her profiles and methods been subjected to outside validation or review.
While the word psychic may be difficult for Dr. Pistorius, legitimizing psychics is apparently not. In 1995, she wrote a testimonial letter for Cape Town psychic Gypsy Niyan, as a credential authenticating her work with the police. Niyan produced the letter to journalists in 2003, after she was denied an audience with local police to give assistance on an unsolved series of poisonings. The media published her grievance and her psychically derived profile of the suspect (Williams, 2003, p. 1):
Gypsy Niyan said: “My initial feeling is that he is medium-dark in colouring, so he is not fair or blonde. He is swarthy-looking, stocky and foreign-looking. He might be a South African citizen, but is of foreign extraction. He is someone with a way out to a foreign country if he needs to run.”
Niyan believes his motives were not only money—the extortionist has demanded R500 000 from Pick ‘n Pay—but “some kind of a revenge thing.”…
Niyan produced a testimonial signed by top profiler Micki Pistorius.
The letter, dated 1995, read in part that Niyan “has assisted the South African police in an unofficial capacity in the investigation of the station strangler serial killer case in Cape Town, as well as the River Strangler serial killer case in Durban.”
Pistorius also wrote that “in all these cases (Niyan) was particularly accurate in describing crime scenes.”
The case remains unsolved.
Despite retiring in 2000 owing to “post-traumatic stress” (Phirippides, 2002), Dr. Pistorius apparentl continues to consult with South African police, and they also continue to consult with psychics:
During the investigation into the murder of [Juanita] Mabula and the deaths of the other two women, [Deputy Police Commissioner Marius] Visser has been in contact with a South African psychologist who is regarded as an expert on serial killings in South Africa, Dr Micki Pistorius, to get some guidance on possible ways to approach the investigation of the three young women’s deaths.
He has in the meantime also met a supposed South African psychic, Sue du Randt, who had offered to use her alleged supernatural abilities to help with the investigation, Visser said yesterday.
Her participation has however not yet borne fruit for the investigations either.
According to retired FBI profiler Robert Ressler, it was his involvement with Micki Pistorius in 1994 that enabled her formation of the South African Police Service’s Investigative Psychology Unit in 1995 (Ressler and Schachtman, 1998, p. 213). At the time, she was still a Ph.D. student of Dr. David Canter’s at Liverpool, and a volunteer with the South African Police Service. Ressler often touts her as “one of the
world’s best criminal profilers” in books and interviews (Phirippides, 2002).
Clint Van Zandt, FBI Profiler (retired)
In 2001, Clint VanZandt, a retired FBI profiler and hostage negotiator went on CNN’s Larry King Live to participate in a program called “Are Psychics for Real?” His answer to the question was in step with that of other FBI profilers that have openly discussed the subject (King, 2001):
[A]s an FBI agent, you know, you have to keep your mind open, and I’m not going say I’m a skeptic. I would listen if somebody could help solve a crime, Larry.
When I was in Waco, dealing with David Koresh, and a psychic sent a letter in and said: If you say the word—I think it was Beelzebub—to David Koresh, he will come out. I read the letter, I got a three-by-five card and I wrote that word on the three-by-five card, and I shoved it in front of the face of the negotiator talking to David Koresh on the phone.
The negotiator says, “What am I supposed to do with this?” I said, “Use the word in the sentence.” He said, “I don’t know how to.” I said, “Make up a sentence.” So we did, and we used it.
I would have loved David Koresh to come marching out with those little kids behind him, Larry, but it didn’t happen. And there were situations where we have tried, and it didn’t happen.
But if you exhaust law enforcement investigation, if you exhaust psychological profiling, if the victim’s family or the police say, “I would like to try a psychic,” I would say, anything that can help, and anything that would help a victim’s family, I would not stand in the way.
Like Geberth, Douglas, Ressler, and Pistorius, retired FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt believes that psychics may be real and believes that investigative resources should be wasted indulging them. This belief persists, despite that fact that his experience has shown just how little value they actually have.
The media affect the hearts and minds of the public—perpetuating magical thinking and influencing the availability heuristic. A segment of the public is fascinated with or believes in the supernatural—often as an adjunct to personal religious faith. The media have embraced this market by courting psychics, profilers, psychic profilers, and profilers who suggest that they have special powers. Because the media have an effect on what people believe, it is now in a continuous feedback loop with respect to psychics and near psychic profilers: the public believes; the media provide—the public believes more; the media provide more. Clearly, there are also more than a few professional criminal profilers and criminal investigators who are in the dark with respect to understanding how criminal profiling interpretations are actually made—theirs or others. Too many are supplementing this ignorance with claims of special abilities because it intersects with personal belief systems, makes for light work, and most important it sells. They are also training others to think the same way—through their publicized interviews, their memoirs, and their example.
Criminal profiling is not akin to being psychic, and it is not the result of having special, innate abilities. Continually playing to the popular market (the public) by suggesting otherwise has hurt the credibility of the field tremendously. It has also resulted in the waste of untold investigative time and resources.
When investigators and forensic examiners purport that findings are inspired by special abilities or by divine providence, they tend to gain a measure of public credibility and deflect scrutiny from the faithful. This is anathema to critical thinking, analytical logic, and the scientific method, which are vital to reality-based criminal profiling and working cases to a meaningful result.
The first step is admitting we have a problem. Faith-based reasoning of any kind, while often important in one’s personal life, has no place in the objective investigation of facts, forensic examinations, or evidence interpretation. It promotes bias and is not susceptible to falsification. To that extent, there is a problem of magical thinking that is endorsed by some profilers, embraced by a particular segment of the public, and perpetuated for profit by the media.
In the short term, the legitimate profiling community must openly separate itself from faith-based reasoning. This means bringing an end to playing up religious and psychic influences with respect to profiling interpretations. It means refusing to endorse magical thinking in any way, shape, or form as it coincides with the popular media. It also means moving toward methods that embrace the scientific method, analytical logic, and critical thinking. In other words, it means we need to be showing our work and embracing methods that are verifiable. There is no tenable reason for doing otherwise. Education is the only long-term solution to the problem of faith-based profiling.
The purpose of this third edition is to move evidence-based criminal profiling closer to a full embrace of the scientific method and all that it can bring to bear on the interpretation of behavioral evidence. We will discuss the role that intuition plays in logic and reason; we will learn how to interpret behavioral evidence rationally and deductively. We will learn principles and practice standards. We will identify what actually works and how, what actually doesn’t work and why, and we will not bow to any particular profiling faith or celebrity. Criminal profiling is not a priesthood—it is a skill that can be taught and learned. Only through serious, critically oriented students does it have the potential to become more reliable and more useful as a forensic discipline.
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____________________________________________Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis, 3rd Edition
by Brent E. Turvey, MS, Hardcover, 816 pages, Published by Elsevier Science, 2008; ISBN: 0123741009